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How to Talk to Your Child About Their Medical Diagnosis

Talking to your child about their medical condition or diagnosis can be overwhelming. Use this material to guide you in these hard conversations. And remember, your health care team is your partner in this health care journey.  

caregiver talking to child

Open communication between you and your child is very important. They need to know they can talk to you and that you support and love them.

How to start the conversation 

There is no right time to talk to your child about a diagnosis or condition. Some parents talk to their child when the child is young. Then they give more specific details as the child ages and is ready. Others wait until their child is older. They may feel that when the child is older, they will be able to understand and process the information better. 

  • Your medical team can help you plan how to talk to your child.  
  • The conversation can be done in stages, starting with basic information. 
  • Use age-appropriate words and information. Ask your care team for resources to use to help your child understand. 
  • Be honest. If you don’t know the answer to your child’s questions, tell them you don’t know. This is a new situation, and you can find answers together. 
  • Practice having this conversation with someone you trust. This will be an emotional experience, so practicing can help you plan what to say. You may be more prepared for what kinds of emotions are likely to come up. 

Have age-appropriate conversations 

  • The details you share with your child will depend on their age. 
  • As children age, the way they respond to information about their diagnosis or treatment will likely change. 
  • Children of many ages need to know that nothing they did or didn’t do caused their illness. 
  • School-age children want to know how things work, like their bodies. 
  • Around 7 years of age, children begin to think in a more logical way. 
  • School-age children know how to express themselves, ask questions, and talk about their feelings. 

Learn more about ways to talk to your child based on their age. 

Open communication 

No matter where you are in the process of talking about your child’s diagnosis and treatment, open communication between you and your child is the most important aspect. By creating trust and speaking openly, you can create a deeper connection. This can help you navigate even the hardest topics. 

The role of your care team 

Each family has its own history and style of talking to one another. Families face many issues, feelings, and questions. Your care team wants to work together for the benefit of your child and your family. They can help support your family during this education process and beyond. 

Throughout this process, contact your nurse practitioner, social worker, or child life specialist with questions. 

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Reviewed: September 2022